Jonathan Ng of Iterative Health On The Future Of Artificial Intelligence

An Interview With Ben Ari

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine


I think of goodness in everyday terms. Especially in healthcare, where I frequently share that we have such privilege in alignment of our jobs and goodness whereby if one wanted to do a ton of good in healthcare, one simply needs to do her or his job well and you’d inevitably help a lot of people.

As part of our series about the future of Artificial Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Ng.

Jonathan Ng, MBBS, is the founder and CEO of Iterative Health, a company on a mission to improve global access to high-quality medical care and eliminate disparities in healthcare outcomes through the application of artificial intelligence (AI) to gastroenterology. Jon’s commitment to improving equity in the field began as a teenager, when he spent time in Cambodia and saw firsthand the impact of healthcare disparities, founding and chairing a philanthropic organization, Children of Cambodia, which was focused on continuing to expand access to high quality pediatric care. Jon then received his MBBS from the National University of Singapore and began to explore the computer vision and AI space at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, which ultimately led him to found Iterative Health.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path in AI?

In my teen years I helped to build hospitals in Cambodia where I saw firsthand the lack of equity in healthcare access. As I continued to do this into my twenties as a medical doctor, I saw how difficult it is to train up doctors to the same level of expertise in diagnosing and treating patients.

For example, when looking at the same tumor, two doctors might have vastly different interpretations. This would then lead to a ton of differences in decision making and in turn, outcomes.

My search for a better way to propagate healthcare expertise and boost healthcare equity led me to AI as a solution to enhancing our ability to propagate necessary medical knowledge.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Find what motivates you. Technology is a means to an end.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

At Iterative Health, we use computer vision algorithms as a means of knowledge transfer.

Where two humans looking at the same colonoscopy video may have very different interpretations, a computer vision algorithm can be trained to a higher level of consistency and accuracy. This core technology is used in various products, including our polyp-detection product, SKOUTTM, which recently received 510(K) clearance and is being prepared for commercialization. It is also being used in our clinical trial optimization product, which helps find the right Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) patients for clinical trials. We have a slew of exciting products which are being launched that we think will fundamentally challenge the way gastroenterology is practiced today.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Too many. My journey has been filled with wonderful people along the way, from the first doctor who believed in me, and gave me my first opportunity to experience healthcare outside of Singapore, to hospital directors who opened the doors so I could better understand the problems and work to solve them. And today, my board who provides a firm guiding hand as I attempt to scale the company, to my teammates and colleagues who have chosen to spend their time building towards my vision.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. Advances in how intuitive the output of algorithms can be.
  2. Availability of data to train these algorithms, but also a rapid increase in methods to reduce the burden of data — requiring smaller datasets to achieve the same output.
  3. The general acceptance of AI as a way of life, in turn, allowing us to adapt practices in say, healthcare that have not changed for decades but doctors are now opening the door to change.
  4. The infinite scalability of AI, where we previously were limited by the number of mentors and doctors who are available, AI can provide guidance to an unlimited amount of doctors.
  5. The low cost factor in scale of AI, where the broader our application of AI, the lower the cost of deployment, allowing us to reach into markets which previously were uneconomical to.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

The sometimes inability to connect algorithm to business or use case. While it might sometimes seem straightforward, a ton of effort needs to be put into the how to get AI into the general marketplace. This has implications, not just on ensuring that we are not worsening the divide in accessibility to knowledge and tools that improve outcomes but also other important themes like algorithmic biases as well as skewing incentives.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

I think that in the right hands, AI will not pose a danger to humanity. If deployed in an unconstrained way, or simple pursuit of profitability, we certainly have the potential to let something which has unlimited upside to also have unlimited downside. I can’t say that this doesn’t apply to anything else in life though, sugar, money, power you name it.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I think of goodness in everyday terms. Especially in healthcare, where I frequently share that we have such privilege in alignment of our jobs and goodness whereby if one wanted to do a ton of good in healthcare, one simply needs to do her or his job well and you’d inevitably help a lot of people.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

Broadening the funnel to ensure that we are engaging women, encouraging women who are already in the AI industry to provide mentorship to others who are keen to explore the space, and providing the support for them to do so.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

“In the ladder of life we are given to climb, each life counts for only a second of time. The one thing to do in the brief little space is to make the world glad that we ran in the race.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I have already started a movement; it is called Iterative Health. I’m all in on this one.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can check out our company website and some recent podcasts I have done:

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!